Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii was a standout not just for its epic scale and unique style, but for its ability to bring owners of the system together in a solid, cohesive online component; that was a rarity. With honourable exceptions such as Mario Kart Wii, many titles on Nintendo's last-gen system either had primitive but perfectly functional online play, or unfortunately suffered from aggravating lag or connection issues. Tri gave Wii owners a taste of the online revolution taking place on the Xbox 360 and PS3 with text chat, the little-used voice chat — because Wii Speak was, well, not that popular — and lobby systems aligned with fairly reliable online hunts. With Capcom regularly serving up quests and challenges to take on, it added immeasurably to the overall experience.
And so Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the Wii U and 3DS has certainly been a high point of 2013, with Capcom not only enhancing the visuals of the original but also adding a substantial amount of content; this is no lazy upgrade with few additions, but a release packed with enough extras to keep newcomers and series veterans questing for months and, possibly, years.
To start with the Wii U version, the HD visual upgrade — though it has moments of crudity — adds a fresh dynamic, making the most epic and tough battles even more intense. Most importantly, the 30-40 hour single player campaign of the Wii original is essentially doubled, which not only adds a dizzying number of quests but also all of the accompanying upgrades and items that are expected with each fresh hunt. The amount of new content is boggling, and dedicated fans — we'll even make an exception and use that term hardcore — are likely still chasing down that armour they desperately want. The sheer depth of this experience outside of hunting — with crafting, buffs and more — is mind boggling.
The additional monsters include newcomers, but the bulk are upgraded and brought across from old entries in the series that may be more familiar to Sony gamers previous from PS2 and PSP entries; in that respect, this is an ideal introduction to the series for many, while Miiverse and the excellent Wii U web browser are the perfect tools for hunters to learn about monster weaknesses and drop percentages.
The key to what makes Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate a terrific offering on Wii U is online multiplayer. Like on the Wii there are four player hunts, but the improved hardware has led to noticeable enhancements, for which Capcom certainly deserves plenty of credit. The lobby and pre-hunt area has been streamlined to be far more intuitive, making it easier to find others and jump into a match — which is also helped by the European and North America servers being combined. The use of the GamePad is terrific, meanwhile; in addition to instant customisable messages it's natural to type text on the touch screen, while the built-in microphone is used for voice chat. When you add the game's excellent and — again — customisable touch screen panels that can show maps and more, the controller is utilised in the best possible way.
It's when hunting with others, whether relative newcomers or savvy veterans, that this title takes on new life.
The 3DS version of Ultimate, meanwhile, is an impressive technical accomplishment on the system, let down only by the absence of that online play and moments where the environments don't fit the smaller screens in an optimal way. It's an excellent experience, nevertheless, with camera control possible with a virtual D-pad on the touch screen but far more suited to the Circle Pad Pro / XL; the auto-stereoscopic 3D also adds an extra dynamic.
In what was a first for the system and may ultimately be a rare example, the two versions can also be played together. Though local multiplayer only — unless you utilise an app with a Wii online dongle that requires an extra Wii U anyway — it provides extra incentive for friends to meet-up, with the connection between the portable and home console being practically lag-free. Seeing your 3DS playing colleague on the TV and vice-versa is a neat moment, and something that will hopefully happen again — fans must certainly be hoping for a HD accompaniment to a potential Monster Hunter 4 localisation.
Another vital part of the equation for the most dedicated is the save sharing across both versions. Utilising an app, it takes around five minutes to move a save from one system to the other, but is useful for those that want to continue some quests and grinding on the 3DS while away from the Wii U. It's unique to this game at present, once again showing that Capcom was keen to make the most of the title's origins as a 3DS game (Monster Hunter 3G in Japan), while utilising the Wii U for the HD version.
When it comes to value for money and a challenge suited to experienced, committed gamers, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a terrific option on Wii U and/or 3DS. It's also set the standard for online gaming on the Wii U, while showing that with the right tools integration between Nintendo's two systems is certainly possible. We just hope the series will continue in the West.